Sunday's best & worst
I started to buy into the notion of the Stags as a team to be reckoned with when they took a good Hofstra team down to the wire, but it was hard to be sure they were for real without an impressive conference win. I never thought winning in Jersey City would be considered a statement win, but for a team that's gone through what Fairfield has, Sunday's victory was exactly that, especially after Saint Peter's beat Iona in its MAAC opener.
I was high on the Peacocks before the season began and still think they can be an upper-half team. For the Stags to win going away despite going 10-for-22 at the line speaks volumes about how quickly they're growing up.
Honorable mention: Niagara (beat Loyola 77-57)
The Eagles sure look better with Tyrone Lewis in the lineup. Lewis had 21 points Sunday, and when he's on the court, good things tend to happen at both ends of the floor. That's a good thing, since he played 38 minutes against the Hounds.
Best individual performance: Derek Needham, Fairfield (20 points, 4 assists in win over SPC)
Despite starting the game on a 10-0 run and dominating the first 10 minutes, the Stags may have lost if not for Needham's performance in the second half, when he scored 19 of his 20 points and hit five 3s.
Needham played what he and Ed Cooley described as a poor game against Marist, but still ended up with 12 points and six assists. Then Sunday, he played what might have been his worst half of the year, but managed to come back right away with his best. If awards were given out in December, Needham would be the unanimous choice for MAAC Rookie of the Year and probably be at least a second-team all-conference pick.
Honorable mention: Daye Kaba, Marist (13 points, 9 rebounds in loss to Rider)
The main storyline of this game, which we'll get to in a minute, is Rider's baffling inability to score against zone defenses. But the game still wouldn't have been close in the final minutes if the Red Foxes hadn't hit some big shots down the stretch.
Some of those biggest shots came from Kaba, who scored nine points in the second half, when the Red Foxes hung around by shooting 50 percent from the floor.
It'll be interesting to see, come spring semester, how Marist looks with Kaba, Dejuan Goodwin and R.J. Hall on the perimeter and Villanova transfer Casiem Drummond in the low post.
Worst team performance: Rider (beat Marist 55-51)
Yes, it's a league win and yes, the Broncs have showed in the past that they can follow up atrocious performances with very good ones. But Rider has been lost all season against zone defenses, and its performance Sunday bordered on pathetic.
Pick any measure by which to judge offensive efficiency, and the Broncs failed Sunday. They shot 23 percent from 3 (6-for-26), but as Tommy Dempsey pointed out after the game, it wasn't JUST that they missed 3s. They also missed everything from mid-range jumpers to layups to free throws.
Luckily for the Broncs, their opponent was a team that lost 75-38 to Hartford.
Dishonorable mention: Loyola (lost at Niagara, 77-57).
The Hounds entered conference play on a high note, having played arguably their best game of the year in a win over crosstown rival Morgan State. That they weren't so much as competitive in either of their two Buffalo games doesn't speak well about their prospects for staying out of the play-in round.
Worst individual performance: Ryan Thompson (one point in 39 minutes against Marist)
A free throw with 12.5 seconds left was all that kept the preseason Player of the Year from being held scoreless for the first time since the second game of his career.
Dishonorable mention: Frank Turner and Julius Coles, Canisius (combined 28 points, eight turnovers in 71-57 loss to Manhattan)
One player with four turnovers won't kill you. When your two best players BOTH have that on their stat line, and when there isn't nearly enough offense to make up for it, bad things will happen.
Rider could have used an extra zone-buster Sunday, but was without Pat Mansell, who Dempsey suspended for two games for violating team rules.
Siena, fresh off a thrashing of cross-town rival Albany, opens MAAC play against Iona. I expect you'll see another statement from the Saints, who are unquestionably the team to beat in the league despite a less-than-inspiring start to the season.
Anybody up for some high school swimming talk?
How about high school hockey?